Pop singer turned musical star, Duncan James, tells Ruth Supple why he loves dancing in heels, living with his mum and how following a healthy lifestyle is so important to him...
Blue boyband popstar turned musical actor Duncan James looks fitter now than ever and puts his ripped physique down to regular gym workouts, healthy eating . . . and drinking something called Kangen water.
The star, who is appearing at Northampton’s Derngate this month as the lead in hit show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical, told me how the expensive water filtration system turns tap water more alkaline, which he claims is better for your body.
“The premise of Kangen water is that it makes your tap water, which normally has a ph level of 7.5, up to 9.5,” he says. “So many cancers are caused by what we eat and drink, in a sense, and tap water has got so many different chemicals in it so it doesn’t rust the pipes underground. It’s been cleaned so much but still has chemicals in it and cancers thrive and lives in more acidic environments,” he claims.
“The Kangen water system filters your tap water and oxygenates it so it becomes between 8 to 9.5 ph level, so more alkaline. It is a lot of money to have it fitted, but it is definitely worth it.”
Does it taste different? I ask.
“It does taste a bit different, probably because it is more alkaline,” Duncan says. “For me, it works. And my mum, who was diagnosed with high blood pressure recently, drinks it now as well.”
Following a healthy lifestyle is hugely important to Duncan, who says he has lost quite a few people to cancer.
“I am very health-conscious. I like going to the gym and think I am physically in good shape for my age. I have worked out regularly for the past five or six years, going to the gym,” he tells me. “It is a great way to work away stress, though I have slacked off a bit lately because I have a back injury. It’s about keeping active and following a good lifestyle. I am 38 this month and want to be in good shape and stay healthy for my 11-year-old year daughter.”
He sees his daughter, Tianie Finn, by his former girlfriend, Claire Grainger, whenever he is back home in London, inbetween touring with Priscilla, and says he is happy she is also following in his showbiz footsteps by pursuing her dream to become a ballerina.
“She has auditioned to be in the Royal Ballet and, out of 3,000, is down to the last 30,” he says. “I am so excited for her and she has done so well, whatever happens, to get so far. I don’t care what she wants to do in life; I just want her to be happy.
“She got a phone for Christmas and we text each other all the time when I am on tour. It’s really weird to be getting texts from my daughter, having these really grown up, adult conversations with her by text!”
As one quarter of the pop band Blue, Duncan has sold more than 16 million records, had three number one albums and 40 number one singles worldwide. He is very familiar with a lifestyle of touring and says he loves being back on the road, starring as Tick in Priscilla. It will be the first time he has visited Northampton before, though he recollects maybe passing through the town once.
“My birthday is on April 7, so I’ll be in the show in Northampton then,” he says. “My mum and a couple of friends are coming along to see me in the show that night and we will be celebrating together . . . though it’s not a big one.”
Duncan recently returned to the lead role of Tick after a three month gap and will be starring with the show for another three months before the UK tour ends in June.
“I feel like Britney Spears,” he says. “I started in the show last August, so will have done almost a year when the tour comes to an end. It’s been such a blast. It’s such a great show and the cast are wonderful. When you’re on the road like we are, it’s a bit like when you’re touring in a band, you become like a big family because you are spending every single day with them.
“So it’s great when you all get on like we do and I have been having so much fun. I love the part; it’s so rewarding and one of the best things I’ve honestly ever done.”
Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical is based on the movie set in Australia and is the heart-warming, uplifting adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship and end up finding more than they could have ever dreamed of.
The role requires Duncan to dress in drag and although he’s had to master dancing in heels, he says transforming his face doesn’t - surprisingly - involve hours in make-up.
“I wear a prosthetic mask,” he reveals. “So I just have to put a base and bit of eye make-up on beforehand, which is great. It is fitted to mould into my face and is all very clever. I have to go from a boy to being a girl in minutes and it’s all great fun.
“Wearing a mask is weird because it’s such a different thing to get used to.”
It’s a myth that EastEnders star Bonnie Langford taught Duncan to dance though.
“She came round for Sunday roast at my house one day and taught me how to bevel, not how to dance . . . that’s one of these Chinese whispers,” he laughs. “It is challenging though because I have to be in full dress with heels and a bodice; it’s very good fun though and I get to have a real laugh every night which, when you have a long contract, is nice. It’s not Hamlet where it’s serious. I enjoy doing this kind of thing. It’s very rewarding.”
Duncan says he particularly likes seeing the UK while touring.
“I’m used to touring with Blue and get put into these lovely hotels, which is great, as I get to see the UK in style. I do love being on the road and exploring new cities and towns. It’s like living in a bubble when you are in London and though I love it and have spent nearly 20 years living there, it is so lovely to get away.”
Duncan started his professional career working at Haven holiday camp, where he was to meet his soon to be bandmates Lee Ryan, Simon Webbe and Antony Costa. Then Blue, the pop group was born in 2001 and the band immediately signed to Innocent Records. Their hits include All Rise and Sorry Seems to be The Hardest Word with Sir Elton John. In 2005 the guys decided to take a break from the band to pursue other interests, and Duncan saw this as the perfect opportunity to broaden his experience within the entertainment industry.
His stage credits include playing Warner Huntington III in the West End production of Legally Blonde and Billy Flynn in Chicago. He was also a finalist on ITV1’s Dancing on Ice. He is a regular face in panto and set to appear again this Christmas, and is still with Blue which re-formed and, in 2011, represented the UK at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf with I Can.
“We are all great friends in Blue and there is stuff in the pipeline with them for later on this year, after our summer tour of Asia and Australia,” he says. “It’s challenging fitting all our diaries together as we have many different things we are all doing these days, but there are some summer festivals booked, too, and other stuff I cannot talk about.”
When he’s not on tour acting or singing, Duncan admits he loves travelling and going home to see his mum, Fiona, who moved in with him last year.
“I’ve only got my mum,” he says. “I’ve got no dad or brothers and sisters. My mum is at a point where she is on her own and I am not really at home much with being on tour, so it made sense for her to move in with me. It’s really nice to come home to a real home when I’m not on the road.”